The 24-year-old San Diego transplant and Somerville resident is a rising star in Boston’s cocktail scene. After graduating from the New England Culinary Institute, Wang spent a year and a half as an apprentice, then bartender, at Barbara Lynch’s Drink, one of the best cocktail bars in the city, under the tutelage of renowned bar whiz John Gertsen. He’ll soon begin a new job at No. 9 Park, where he hopes to help revitalize the bar that was instrumental in elevating the art of the cocktail.
Q. How did you get started in the industry?
A. The last thing you need to do at culinary school is an apprentice program. I started off externing at Drink in March of 2010, and I was doing that under the auspices of the school for about six months. After that, no way I could leave, so I stuck on board. I wanted to learn about the ground rules of a really great restaurant and I worked alongside some really amazing bartenders. About four months ago I started bartending, real bartender shifts, taking care of people myself. It was a big step.
Q. You’re about to start a new gig at Lynch’s No. 9 Park, a bar that played a big role in kick-starting the cocktail renaissance here.
A. No. 9, it’s the flagship as far as Drink is concerned. Working there is one of those opportunities you just can’t pass up, when you’re offered that sort of thing. As I understand it, without having worked there yet, it’s an amazingly strong foundation for people who work there to learn everything there is to know about beer, wine, cocktails, and the restaurant industry itself… . I think the reason I am going over there, the main pull for me, is looking to pull No. 9 out of the shadow of John Gertsen. As wonderful as he is, there needs to be a life beyond Gertsen. Which is funny because he created the entire system. Bar manager Ted Kilpatrick, an amazing bartender and hospitality professional, is looking for ways to reinvent and liven up the No. 9 bar, to kind of take the current cocktail program and expand it drastically. When people talk about No. 9 they talk about food, wine, service… . People have to be reminded there’s a great cocktail bar there.
Q. A lot of bars are presenting themselves as “craft cocktail’’ bars now. Is that just an empty catch phrase?
A. It’s definitely a catch phrase. People are saying the phrase craft cocktail bar as a way to get people in the door. While it might just be a marketing standpoint, I think it still sort of helps. Every little drop in the bucket helps. Even if they’re just squeezing lemons and otherwise using frozen lime juice, you get a foot in the door. Every bar that opens up that decides to use fresh citrus, even if it’s not the best bar in America, it’s a foot in the door for those of us who want to make something out of this cocktail scene.
Q. There’s a fine line between being a craft cocktail expert and still being a hospitality professional, right? Do you think some people leave one side out?
A. Absolutely. At the Boston Bartender’s Collaborative we did a meeting yesterday that was on hospitality. There were no parameters other than what does it mean to be hospitable, in a bar, restaurant, salon, retail outlet. Every business finds ways to take care of their guests. That’s something that can be lost when you’re looking at strictly craft cocktail bars. No matter how good your cocktail is, with 37 of the best ingredients in the world in glass, if you’re treating the person who is drinking it like [trash] they’re not going to care… . That’s why when people ask what I do I say I make people laugh. Sometimes I shake a cocktail, sometimes stir one, but the goal is to make people happy.
Q. What are you drinking these days?
A. Right now I have been having a lot of fun with a cocktail called the Widow’s Kiss. It’s an apple brandy drink, 1 ½ ounces apple brandy, ¾ ounce Benedictine, ¾ ounce yellow chartreuse, and 2 dashes of Angosturra bitters. They’re delicious. Cocktails really stem from the weather. It’s late summer right now, getting into fall, which is why I turned to apple brandy. Apples will come into season in the next month or so, so I’m always trying to stay seasonal, as odd as it is. I’m not going to get apple brandy that was made this year, but it kind of puts me in the mood for the season to come.